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JONESIE: The worst part about covering a federal election in Kamloops, Okanagan

September 10, 2021 - 12:00 PM



Fire, smoke, disease… federal election.

Can’t wait for the next natural disaster.

I’ve got a Local News Checklist for Federal Elections.

  • Candidate profiles: Check
  • No-Hope leaders come to town: Check
  • Questions posed to candidates like they have any impact: Check
  • Scrappy young challengers: Check
  • Say-Nothing incumbents: Check
  • Photos of candidates knocking on doors: Check
  • All-candidates debate moderated by local radio/TV reporter: Check
  • All-candidates debates made useless because most candidates don’t understand what they’re talking about: Check
  • Campaigns complaining about signs being damaged: Check
  • Candidates trying to make hay out of their signs being damaged: Check
  • Announce a winner; ignore the losers

I would apply for the trademark but unfortunately it’s the same roster of coverage for every local news agency for every federal election.

What are we supposed to say?

No one cares who the local candidates are, especially dim stars destined for a career on the backbench, sending out occasional YouTube clips of themselves in the House of Commons asking Tough and Important questions, except if the camera were to pan out you’d see no one else there.

I touched on this in our newsletter yesterday and nearly everyone who responded agreed: People vote for parties and leaders, not local candidates.

Federal elections for low-level federal candidates — and they’re all low-level in the Thompson-Okanagan — are done by rote like your average national tradition. The writ is dropped and election signs pop up like pumpkins at Halloween, politicians start knocking on doors like trick or treaters, no one is who they are dressed up to be and a few are truly scary.

In each riding, there’s only a likelihood of two or three candidates being actually competitive. The others will complain about lack of coverage, but I’m not wasting anyone’s time. I’ve tried hard in the past to elevate find any independent candidates who appear to know what they’re talking about.

In Kamloops and the Okanagan, most ridings are already assured for the Conservatives except for the dogfight in the South Okanagan-West Kootenay between the NDP incumbent and the two-time Conservative challenger.

Those sure-thing Conservative campaigns will complain because their candidates attract the most 'negative' coverage. They don’t understand that they’re the ones who get it because they’re, you know, the incumbents and likely will be elected again. It's the same for any party. That’s the only real value of an election, in these parts anyway, because it opens MPs to scrutiny from challengers who disappear between elections. And most news outlets are looking to amplify those criticisms, not as some agenda against the Conservatives but because that’s what scrutiny is.

Except for Tracy Gray, of course. She won’t be scrutinized, or thinks she won't. When the Kelowna-Lake Country candidate was called out for her vote against banning conversion therapy, she refused to answer any questions about it. Still hasn’t, really. I’m not talking about some cheap emailed statement we don’t even know she wrote.

READ MORE: Kelowna's Tracy Gray only MP in region to vote against ban on conversion therapy

There’s a pattern developing here. When her young Liberal challenger called her out on what should have been the easiest ask of a federal political candidate — are you vaccinated? — she wouldn’t answer that either. No, she hmmed and hawwed for days before she borrowed whatever credibility Doris Bregolisse — formerly of Global News, now an aspiring realtor and, apparently, political shill — ever had, to take a ridiculous, awkward slow walk in an orchard to make her big reveal: Yes, everyone. She’s vaccinated.

Does she think she’s running for Prime Minister? Can’t/don’t/won’t answer questions on something as basic as why did you cast your vote? Has to plan for days to stage manage an answer to a basic question?

To be fair, that’s the way it’s done, so maybe that makes her a ‘good’ politician. They don’t represent their ridings in Ottawa, they represent their parties to the ridings. The single most important vote in any election campaign here isn’t at the ballot box, it’s at the constituency association that chooses a candidate to appear on the ballot.

This is where Gray did her best work, wheeling her way through local Conservative circles. When she was challenged for the seat in the last election by political rookie Renee Merrifield (then, Wasylyk), Merrifield discovered quickly how connected Gray is. She didn’t have a chance so she tried to take the debate to the masses, challenging local Conservatives to let others in and help choose the best candidate.

READ MORE: Conservative Tracy Gray refuses invitation to debate Renee Wasylyk, saying it may be illegal

Not Gray. She let the party tell Merrifield no, the discussion will be private. She stayed silent against Merrifield’s aggression and worked behind party lines. And won, of course. She only really talks to her own people, Conservative voters. And apparently she votes in their interests on conversion therapy, ahead of her own views, apparently supporting LGBTQ issues and inclusion.

Again, maybe that makes her a good MP.

Parties are not about representing their constituents, either. I interviewed a politician a while ago — provincial, not federal, but the point’s the same — about billing taxpayers thousands of dollars to make major renovations and repairs to a building owned by the family of his constituency assistant so he could move his office there. His justification was: Every MLA rents from supporters. 

You're either with us or against us. There’s us, there’s them and no one else is even considered.  

Federal parties may represent a basic ideology people will identify with, but they don’t want everyone under their tents. Parties are meant to keep the others out, create a defining, dividing line.

Tracy Gray is the poster-child for this. 

But she also knows the single most important factor that will get her elected Sept. 20: It doesn’t matter what she does, people here will vote her in anyway. Those people don’t care about accountability. They’re happy to avoid it. And so is she. It was the same with Liberals under Stephen Fuhr before her (although to his credit, he would actually answer questions himself, as have Conservatives Dan Albas and Cathy McLeod. What's up, Tracy?).

These are bit parts in a much larger game and no one cares so long as their leader and party get elected.

That’s the hardest part about covering an election in Kamloops and the Okanagan. It’s not the fake ‘I’m-doing-an-interview-with-the-news’ voices and acts candidates conjure like circus freaks. It’s not that they behave like whipped dogs to their parties and it’s not even that they’ll be paid well to do it all at our expense.

It’s pretending anything we do or say or write or what the local candidates do or say or don’t say has any impact on things whatsoever.

— Marshall Jones is the Managing Editor of

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